After getting a master's degree in divinity, Roger Bennett thought he knew all the answers, but he didn't know what the problems were.
"I wanted to understand people, including myself, to see how God's truth related to everyday problems," said the Rev. Bennett, pastor of Overcomers Outreach Center in La Petite Plaza on Washington Road.
The center is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention but is open to people from every denomination. "We help people in the area of addictions," he said.
Individuals troubled with alcohol, smoking or eating disorders, adult children of alcoholics or co-dependents - that is, people who need to be needed - hear about the counseling center by word of mouth. About 75 to 100 attend Overcomers' Sunday services at Evans Middle School, he said.
"We believe that we will grow by attraction - and not by promotion," he said. "As God changes our lives, our lives touch other people's."
He recently taught a course on overcoming sugar addiction after losing 40 pounds and keeping it off for four months.
"I was using food to anesthetize my feelings to deal with stress and anger," he said. "My need for food was a way of being in control."
As he began to turn things over to God, he was able to slim down, he said.
Earlier, the ministry itself was causing imbalance in his life. While he was helping some people, he was neglecting those closest to him. He recognized that he had a need to be needed.
"When I was on that, for years it wore me out," he said.
Workaholism will also cause people to be judgmental. "You think other people aren't working as hard as you are, that they are lazy, uncommitted, indifferent and unspiritual," he said with a laugh.
Courses on grief and self-esteem have also come out of his own life experiences. "God values us as human beings," he said. Until people come to believe that in their hearts as well as their heads, they will always be frustrated and disappointed, the Rev. Bennett said.
There is a great need to see truth lived out - modeled - in a community setting as a step toward repairing damaged lives. People learn by example.
"Many of our problems start in our families. We learn wrong rules for relating," he said. The emotional pain from bad relationships sets individuals up for addictions.
When he understood that, he understood the role of church. "That's where I saw why God said the church was his agent for redemption on this earth," he said. "That was a major factor in my starting this fellowship because many systems are dysfunctional, very unhealthy."
When visitors walk through the center's door, they enter a large room, empty except for folding tables lining the walls. The tables are covered with copies of past sermons and other reading material.
Behind the desk in his small office is a floor-to-ceiling wall of books. Stacks of books, like stalagmites, fill the rest of the room. Dealing with people and their issues has made him realize how limited his knowledge is, he said. He is continually reading.
"I've never met a person I didn't like. To know people is to love them," he said. "When you know their background and the trials and the struggles they have had, you appreciate them and love them."
His goal is not to make people happy, though; his goal is to make people holy.
"And sometimes that gets us very unhappy," he said. "Some of that is understanding our own sinfulness and the evilness of our own hearts."
When people see the truth of that and stop blaming problems on circumstances or others, they will also see their need for Christ. "We usually don't come until we see that our problems are our own sinfulness."
His approach is to integrate psychology and theology. Just as missionaries must learn and understand the language of the people they are evangelizing, he felt a need to learn psychology. "Psychology is the language of the American people," he said.
With psychology, he believes he can communicate God's truth in a way that people can understand, he said.
He believes psychology has its place just as the medical field does. And he refers individuals to psychologists or social agencies as need be.
Overcomers Outreach isn't a welfare agency or the answer to everybody's problem. However, he believes a lot of problems are spiritual.
"Education won't solve spiritual problems, nor will laws or money," he said. "Laws can be used to reveal spiritual problems, but only Christ can solve those problems."
People need God but don't always recognize it. "What looks like needs are really just manifestations of a deeper need, and that is a need for Christ," he said.